WW is almost in a no-win situation.
- WW is exceptionally late on their first product (the Relay), and are even further behind on their other products (Sensor, Glowline, etc.).
The first WW product that made it into volume production is the one WW didn't design and doesn't manufacture: The Filament bulb. And that was a years ago.
WW is blowing through money, to the point that the KS money is hardly a drop in the bucket any more. I've stopped tracking how many ways they've been trying to find funds. This search must be occupying most of management's time, since clearly not much of anything is being well-managed.
Employee turn-over has been far higher than it should be. On-boarding new staff can only slow things down, not to mention the loss of experienced talent. Another management failure.
Nobody has announced any revenue-enhancing partnerships with WW (especially brick&mortar distribution). Now that Wink and SmartThings are on their second-generation products, there is no reason for anyone to believe anything about WW, at least from a business perspective.
So, given all this wailing and gnashing of teeth, why did I say "almost" at the start?
- WW set the bar very high for what HA rules should be like for the homeowner: Easy to create, easy to use, easy to modify. Rules able to trigger, and be triggered by, other rules. Nobody else has yet reached that bar, and nobody seems to even be seriously reaching for it.
Only last week did IFTTT finally add general conditionals to their rules, and they had to do a deep (but hackish) overhaul to make it happen. Expect more churn before things stabilize.
Wink has their "robots", but they have severe limitations. And I'm not at all sure what SmartThings is doing with rules (I haven't looked).
Of course, the other part of WW's vision, "integrating all other HA devices", has been copied by just about everyone else, at least at the hardware level. Another dumb-luck item is that the other HA hubs aren't very good at the software side of true integration.
Most of the current HA industry seems focused on little more than turning phones into remote controls. That will never creeate a market with explosive growth.
- Even if all of WW's delays were due to hardware (and they haven't been), the WW hardware, despite being a design that's well over 3 years old, isn't yet obsolete on the market.
The above two items flat out amaze me. Why has HA market sales and HA technology been advancing so slowly? The only truly "new" thing in the HA space over the past three years has been the Amazon Echo.
Why does WW still even have a prayer?
Or, put another way: Why have so few others (both HA vendors and customers) "seen the light" that we WW KS backers clearly saw three years ago?
I have no definitive answer to that question. But there are two possibilities:
We were wrong. WW's beautiful dream is simply not possible, not in any realistic time frame, nor at any realistic price. Right up there with flying cars.
We were wrong. Nobody, not even current market participants, much less bankers, truly believes a "large enough" HA market will ever exist to support truly innovative products, so there's no reason to put serious money into it. Right up there with self-driving cars.
Wait. We have self-driving cars! With more arriving every year.
That's why I think WW, amazingly, still has a chance. I truly believe nobody has yet done for homes what self-driving is doing for cars. WW is the only player I see with a clear and complete HA vision, and the only one to make (excruciatingly slow) progress toward realizing that vision. Sure, bits and pieces can be seen elsewhere in the market, but there's no single instance that approaches WW's Big Picture.
It seems almost as if the market looked at WW's woes, decided the WW vision was wrong, and concluded there is no reason to follow that path.
What amazing pieces of utterly blind luck for WW. Nobody deserves to screw up so often and so badly yet still have a shot at the brass ring.
So, WW's death certificate hasn't been signed yet, despite their abject lack of functional management. But for how much longer can this state persist? What are the factors needed for WW to turn things around now, and for WW to take over the HA control market?
- WW needs an active userbase now. One that is enthusiastic, aggressive and opinionated.
Yup, I'm talking about us KS backers. But how can WW do this if they have nothing but a few Relays to ship?
WW must immediately ship "loaner" or "prototype" or "hobbyist" hardware to KS backers, with the promise to replace it when the commercial release hardware becomes available. I've been part of two crowdfunding campaigns (one KS, one IGG) that did precisely this: I got "somewhat working" stuff early that was later upgraded.
The "ship & swap" approach has some distinct benefits:
- No need to wait for hardware certifications: "Hobbyist" hardware is exempt.
- No need for fancy enclosures, beyond the minimum needed for electrical safety (say, a generic box).
- No need for fully-functional firmware, software or apps. Start with only the ability to update, and evolve from there.
The main resource WW is wasting (beyond time-to-market) is KS backer good will, our willingness to be beta testers, to be part of getting the entire WW product line ready for commercial release.
Again, WW management is totally abusing yet another valuable resource. Their lack of meaningful communication with KS backers is abundant proof of their blindingly obvious and over-abundant stupidity.
- WW must stop these endlessly repeating production misfires.
You know the definition of insanity, right? It's doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different outcome. This defines WW management's approach to production: They're literally insane, and can't get out of their own way.
They should realize and accept the simple fact that they lack the talent required to ride this horse to the finish line: They should get a new jockey. Either fire themselves and hire new management, or contract out for the needed expertise. No more failed production cycles!
WW doesn't need to make all that much hardware to meet KS demands. The entire initial production focus should be on getting "workable beta" gear into KS backer hands ASAP. There is no need for a fancy full-commercial production line. Use open competitive bidding to get the initial KS run built by vendors who have successfully worked with other KS projects. Then take the time needed to separately bring up the WW commercial production line.
Why do this? Why pursue a userbase at all costs? Because a userbase can be shown to investors and banks and potential partners. Real-world users, even 1700 beta testers, count far, far more than a production backlog ever could.
WW cannot count on their current blind luck continuing for even another day. They need to immediately change direction, preferably without current management in charge.
There's one other vital factor to consider:
- WW hasn't evolved past what was described in their KS campaign.
Well, OK, they added a light bulb. A bulb that isn't meaningfully better than dozens of others on the market.
Here's the real problem: WW itself may be unable to advance their own vision to its next generation. Even if they change direction and immediately get all hardware to all KS backers, perfect their software, and get out of their own way enough to reach commercial production and distribution, they may yet prove to be a "one-trick pony".
A One-Trick Pony is an act that will bring everyone to the circus once, but will never lead to repeat sales.
WW's greatest failure may its lack of creating its next vision for HA.
But why is "vision" needed when WW is so underground with production?
Because that's the only way current WW management can stay with the company: They must stop being management and go back to being innovators and product designers. A solid vision, backed by solid products, will make WW an irresistible M&A target.
The best thing that can happen to WW is to be purchased by a company that already knows manufacturing and products and partnerships, who wants to enter the HA market in a truly big way.
WW must become an enticing acquisition target before that can happen. Which means they need to fulfill their KS commitments ASAP, independent of commercial plans, then create and widely share their next HA vision.
Blindness in one's competitors does have its limits: Time to stop relying on it.
Insane one-trick ponies seldom live long, and this one is way past its expiration date.